Archive for the ‘Obama – Middle East’ category

Obama’s Transparent Presidency

January 13, 2017

Obama’s Transparent Presidency, Front Page MagazineCaroline Glick, January 13, 2017

barack_obama_discusses_ukraine_with_national_security_staff

[During Obama’s Cario speech], he turned his attention to Israel and the Palestinians. Obama opened this section by presenting his ideological framework for understanding the conflict. Israel he insisted was not established out of respect of the Jews’ national rights to their historic homeland. It was established as a consolation prize to the Jews after the Holocaust.

That is, Israel is a product of European colonialism, just as Iran and Hamas claim.

In contrast, the Palestinians are the indigenous people of the land. They have been the primary victims of the colonial West’s post-Holocaust guilty conscience. Their suffering is real and legitimate.

Hamas’s opposition to Israel is legitimate, he indicated. Through omission, Obama made clear that he has no ideological problem with Hamas – only with its chosen means of achieving its goal.

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Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

President Barack Obama promised that his would be the most transparent administration in US history.

And the truth is, it was. At least in relation to his policies toward the Muslim world, Obama told us precisely what he intended to do and then he did it.

A mere week remains of Obama’s tenure in office.

But Obama remains intent on carrying on as if he will never leave power. He has pledged to continue to implement his goals for the next week and then to serve as the most outspoken ex-president in US history.

In all of Obama’s recent appearances, his message is one of vindication. I came. I succeeded. I will continue to succeed. I represent the good people, the people of tomorrow. My opponents represent the Manichean, backward past. We will fight them forever and we will prevail.

Tuesday Obama gave his final interview to the Israeli media to Ilana Dayan from Channel 2’s Uvda news magazine. Dayan usually tries to come off as an intellectual. On Tuesday’s show, she cast aside professionalism however, and succumbed to her inner teenybopper. Among her other questions, she asked Obama the secret to his preternatural ability to touch people’s souls.

The only significant exchange in their conversation came when Dayan asked Obama about the speech he gave on June 4, 2009, in Cairo. Does he still stand by all the things he said in that speech? Would he give that speech again today, given all that has since happened in the region, she asked.

Absolutely, Obama responded.

The speech, he insisted was “aspirational” rather than programmatic. And the aspirations that he expressed in that address were correct.

If Dayan had been able to put aside her hero worship for a moment, she would have stopped Obama right then and there. His claim was preposterous.

But, given her decision to expose herself as a slobbering groupie, Dayan let it slide.

To salvage the good name of the journalism, and more important, to understand Obama’s actual record and its consequences, it is critical however to return to that speech.

Obama’s speech at Cairo University was the most important speech of his presidency. In it he laid out both his “aspirational” vision of relations between the West and the Islamic world and his plans for implementing his vision. The fundamentally transformed world he will leave President-elect Donald Trump to contend with next Friday was transformed on the basis of that speech.

Obama’s address that day at Cairo University lasted for nearly an hour. In the first half he set out his framework for understanding the nature of the US’s relations with the Muslim world and the relationship between the Western world and Islam more generally. He also expressed his vision for how that relationship should change.

The US-led West he explained had sinned against the Muslim world through colonialism and racism.

It needed to make amends for its past and make Muslims feel comfortable and respected, particularly female Muslims, covered from head to toe.

As for the Muslims, well, September 11 was wrong but didn’t reflect the truth of Islam, which is extraordinary. Obama thrice praised “the Holy Koran.” He quoted it admiringly. He waxed poetic in his appreciation for all the great contributions Islamic civilization has made to the world – he even made up a few. And he insisted falsely that Islam has always been a significant part of the American experience.

In his dichotomy between two human paths – the West’s and Islam’s – although he faulted the records of both, Obama judged the US and the West more harshly than Islam.

In the second half of his address, Obama detailed his plans for changing the West’s relations with Islam in a manner that reflected the true natures of both.

In hindsight, it is clear that during the seven and a half years of his presidency that followed that speech, all of Obama’s actions involved implementing the policy blueprint he laid out in Cairo.

He never deviated from the course he spelled out.

Obama promised to withdraw US forces from Iraq regardless of the consequences. And he did.

He promised he would keep US forces in Afghanistan but gave them no clear mission other than being nice to everyone and giving Afghans a lot of money. And those have been his orders ever since.

Then he turned his attention to Israel and the Palestinians. Obama opened this section by presenting his ideological framework for understanding the conflict. Israel he insisted was not established out of respect of the Jews’ national rights to their historic homeland. It was established as a consolation prize to the Jews after the Holocaust.

That is, Israel is a product of European colonialism, just as Iran and Hamas claim.

In contrast, the Palestinians are the indigenous people of the land. They have been the primary victims of the colonial West’s post-Holocaust guilty conscience. Their suffering is real and legitimate.

Hamas’s opposition to Israel is legitimate, he indicated. Through omission, Obama made clear that he has no ideological problem with Hamas – only with its chosen means of achieving its goal.

Rather than fire missiles at Israel, he said, Hamas should learn from its fellow victims of white European colonialist racists in South Africa, in India, and among the African-American community.

Like them Hamas should use nonviolent means to achieve its just aims.

Obama’s decision attack Israel at the UN Security Council last month, his attempts to force Israel to accept Hamas’s cease-fire demands during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, his consistent demand that Israel renounce Jewish civil and property rights in united Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, his current refusal to rule out the possibility of enabling another anti-Israel resolution to pass at the Security Council next week, and his contempt for the Israeli Right all are explained, envisioned and justified explicitly or implicitly in his Cairo speech.

One of the more notable but less discussed aspects of Obama’s assertion that the Palestinians are in the right and Israel is in the wrong in the speech, was his embrace of Hamas. Obama made no mention of the PLO or the Palestinian Authority or Fatah in his speech. He mentioned only Hamas – the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which shares the Brotherhood’s commitment to annihilating Israel and wiping out the Jewish people worldwide.

Sitting in the audience that day in Cairo were members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak rightly viewed Obama’s insistence that the brothers be invited to his address as a hostile act. Due to this assessment, Mubarak boycotted the speech and refused to greet Obama at the Cairo airport.

Two years later, Obama supported Mubarak’s overthrow and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to replace him.

Back to the speech.

Having embraced the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian branch, branded Israel a colonial implant and discredited the US’s moral claim to world leadership, Obama turned his attention to Iran.

Obama made clear that his intention as president was to appease the ayatollahs. America he explained had earned their hatred because in 1953 the CIA overthrew the pro-Soviet regime in Iran and installed the pro-American shah in its place.

True, since then the Iranians have done all sorts of mean things to America. But America’s original sin of intervening in 1953 justified Iran’s aggression.

Obama indicated that he intended to appease Iran by enabling its illicit nuclear program to progress.

Ignoring the fact that Iran’s illegal nuclear program placed it in material breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Obama argued that as an NPT signatory, Iran had a right to a peaceful nuclear program. As for the US and the rest of the members of the nuclear club, Obama intended to convince everyone to destroy their nuclear arsenals.

And in the succeeding years, he took a hacksaw to America’s nuclear force.

After Obama’s speech in Cairo, no one had any cause for surprise at the reports this week that he approved the transfer of 116 tons of uranium to Iran. Likewise, no one should have been surprised by his nuclear deal or by his willingness to see Iran take over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. No one should be surprised by his cash payoffs to the regime or his passivity in the face of repeated Iranian acts of aggression against US naval vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.

Everything that Obama has done since he gave that speech was alluded to or spelled out that day.

Certainly, nothing he has done was inconsistent with what he said.

The consequences of Obama’s worldview and the policies he laid out in Cairo have been an unmitigated disaster for everyone. The Islamic world is in turmoil. The rising forces are those that Obama favored that day: The jihadists.

ISIS, which Obama allowed to develop and grow, has become the ideological guide not only of jihadists in the Middle East but of Muslims in the West as well. Consequently it has destabilized not only Iraq and Syria but Europe as well. As the victims of the Islamist massacres in San Bernardino, Boston, Ft. Hood, Orlando and beyond can attest, American citizens are also paying the price for Obama’s program.

Thanks to Obama, the Iranian regime survived the Green Revolution. Due to his policies, Iran is both the master of its nuclear fate and the rising regional hegemon.

Together with its Russian partners, whose return to regional power after a 30-year absence Obama enabled, Iran has overseen the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Sunnis in Syria and paved the way for the refugee crisis that threatens the future of the European Union.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s Islamist leader, was a principle beneficiary of Obama’s admiration of Islamism. Erdogan rode Obama’s wave to destroy the last vestiges of the secular Turkish Republic.

Now he is poised to leave NATO in favor of an alliance with Russia.

Obama and his followers see none of this. Faithful only to their ideology, Obama and his followers in the US and around the world refuse to see the connection between the policies borne of that ideology and their destructive consequences. They refuse to recognize that the hatred for Western civilization and in particular of the Jewish state Obama gave voice to in Cairo, and his parallel expression of admiration for radical Islamic enemies of the West, have had and will continue to have horrific consequences for the US and for the world as a whole.

Cairo is Obama’s legacy. His followers’ refusal to acknowledge this truth means that it falls to those Obama reviles to recognize the wages of the most transparent presidency in history. It is their responsibility to undo the ideological and concrete damage to humanity the program he first unveiled in that address and assiduously implemented ever since has wrought.

How should Israel respond to Obama’s betrayal and Resolution 2334?

January 3, 2017

How should Israel respond to Obama’s betrayal and Resolution 2334? | Anne’s Opinions, 3rd January 2017

Party like it's 1949 By AF Branco at Legal Insurrection

Party like it’s 1949 By AF Branco at Legal Insurrection

The implications, immediate and far-reaching, have been discussed almost ad nauseum in the political world, in the media, even on this little blog. But the question remains: what ought Israel do in light of the resolution’s adoption, and how should we respond (if at all) to Obama’s betrayal?

Isi Leibler, in his column at the Jerusalem Post, asks this very question. In answer he recommends Jewish unity, bi-partisan Jewish support of President-elect Trump, and a plea to Israeli politicians to stop antagonising the nations with their loose-lipped talk and shoot-from-the-hip political suggestions:

We are more powerful today than ever before and in the course of our history we have successfully overcome far greater threats to our existence than the United Nations. Now is a time for us to display unity and strength.

In this context, if the proclaimed decision to move the U.S Embassy to Jerusalem is implemented it will send the world a powerful message. To his credit, Trump used all his weight as an incoming president in efforts to ward off the UN resolution, albeit unsuccessfully.

In light of these developments most of the mainstream Jewish leadership who were in denial for over eight years should share a deep sense of guilt and shame.

They remained silent as Obama treated Israel diplomatically as a rogue state whilst he groveled to the Ayatollah. They continued voting for him and we now see how he repaid them. The only consistent critic was indefatigable Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America who has now been more than vindicated.

Individual American Jews are free to express their personal political opinions in any manner they deem fit, but mainstream Jewish organizations are obliged to avoid activity which reflects political bias.

But now is the time for us to look forward and unite. This U.N. resolution was not just about settlements. It was to undermine the security of the state and pave the way for anti-Semitic boycotts and sanctions by those seeking Israel’s demise.

The resolution employing Obama’s malevolent views made no distinction between isolated outposts and settlements in outlying regions and Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem including the Western Wall.

Looking down onto the thousands of people crowding the Kotel plaza, Sukkot 2016

Looking down onto the thousands of people crowding the Kotel plaza, Sukkot 2016

Any Jew who endorses the view that Judaism’s most sacred site – formerly occupied by the Jordanians who denied Jews access to worship – is occupied territory is reminiscent of medieval “mosers” (informers), who were ostracized from the religious and social life of the community. Those in J Street, The New Israel Fund and other far left Jewish groups who consider Jewish districts of Jerusalem and Judaism’s holiest site to be “occupied territories” should be regarded as renegades and treated as such.

The immediate challenge is to encourage the incoming Trump administration to salvage what it can from Obama’s betrayal of Israel.

Most important to note is that the moderate Sunni countries of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will be desperate to ally themselves with Trump and are hardly likely to do more than express formal protests if and when the US treats Israel as a genuine ally.

But for this to be effective, Israel must tread cautiously and not provoke the incoming administration by seeking to impose arrangements without prior consultation.

Naftali Bennett and other right-wing elements should be silenced and Prime Minister Netanyahu must be enabled to determine the attitude of the new administration. They should also realize that whilst there is close to a consensus for ultimately annexing the settlement blocs and creating defensible borders, most Israelis do not seek to incorporate Judea and Samaria in their entirety because this would effectively lead to the demise of a Jewish state and its substitution by a binational state which would be swallowed up by the Arab world.

The recent statements and settlement policies certainly provided Obama with additional ammunition to justify his perfidious initiative. But it is almost certain that he would have acted no differently had the government not been engaged in any public discussion because his prime intent, since the day of his inauguration, has consistently been to impose such a settlement on Israel.

The reality is that all political parties – other than the Joint Arab list and Meretz – are no less opposed to this resolution than the government. This is surely a time for all political parties to set aside parochial squabbles and act in the national interest by displaying strength and unity.

Jewish unity is always an excellent idea, particularly in times of trouble. Whether American Jews or Israel’s politicians will pay any heed to Leibler’s suggestions is another matter altogether.

In contrast to Leibler’s plea for caution on the subject of settlements, Evelyn Gordon urges “Build baby, Build” – settlements of course:

There’s really only one suitable Zionist response to last week’s UN Security Council resolution on the settlements: massive settlement construction. That’s the appropriate response for more than one reason, but I’ll focus here on the most obvious one: The resolution proves conclusively that Israel gets no credit for showing restraint on this issue, so there’s no earthly reason why it should continue suffering the costs of restraint.

As I’ve written repeatedly in the past, data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics shows that there has been less settlement construction under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than under any of his predecessors. Nor is this a matter of partisan dispute: The left-wing daily Haaretz, a virulent opponent of both Netanyahu and the settlements, used the same data to reach the same conclusion last year.

For Netanyahu, this restraint has come at a real price. First, it caused him political damage, because it infuriated his voter base. The result, as I’ve noted before, is that by last month, he was facing an open revolt in his own party over the issue.

Second, it caused Israel strategic damage, because it kept the country from strengthening its hold over areas that most Israeli governments have considered essential for security under any future agreement. To take just one example, all Israeli premiers have deemed the E1 corridor, which links Jerusalem with the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement bloc, critical for Israel’s security – even Yitzhak Rabin, the patron saint of the peace process. Moreover, E1 in no way prevents the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state, and has actually been assigned to Israel by every serious international peace plan ever proposed. Yet for years, Israel has refrained from building there out of deference to international public opinion, even as illegal Palestinian construction has mushroomed in this formerly empty area. The result is that it now has no “facts on the ground” to act as a counterweight to Palestinian claims. And since Palestinian claims always enjoy the international community’s automatic support, facts on the ground, in the form of large numbers of Israelis whom it’s simply too difficult to evacuate, are Israel’s best guarantee of retaining areas it deems essential to its security.

Rise in house prices in Israel because of a housing shortage

Rise in house prices in Israel because of a housing shortage

Third, settlement restraint has caused major financial damage by exacerbating Israel’s massive housing crisis. As of last year, the price of an average apartment had soared to 146 average monthly salaries, more than double the ratio in most other countries, and up from just 43 in 2008; rents have risen correspondingly. In short, housing in Israel has simply become unaffordable for most people, and that’s a major threat to Israel’s future:…

The settlement blocs are all within commuting distance of the center of the country, which is where the jobs are, and thus where people want to live; inside the Green Line, in contrast, there are few empty areas left in the country’s narrow waist. And in Jerusalem, the housing shortage is the main reason why the capital loses some 18,000 Jews every year.

Commuting distances from Kedumim in the Shomron (Samaria) to other Israeli cities

Commuting distances from Kedumim in the Shomron (Samaria) to other Israeli cities

Netanyahu was willing to absorb all this damage in the belief that international leaders, regardless of what they said publicly, would know the truth about the brakes he has put on settlement construction and support him when it mattered. But to most of the world, the facts have never mattered where Israel is concerned, and it turns out the same is true of the post-truth Obama Administration.

So if Israel is going to be accused of “accelerated settlement activity” and slapped with potentially serious consequences no matter how much restraint it shows, there’s no justification whatsoever for it to incur the very real costs of this restraint. Hence there’s only one sensible response to this resolution: Build, baby, build.

And once again, in case anyone had the slightest doubt about the invalidity of the “Israeli occupation” myth, law blogger Elliott Hamilton lays to rest the myth of the “illegal Israeli occupation” in a scholarly article in The Daily Wire.

From the perspective of someone who does not understand international law or the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, this resolution tells the story that Israelis have trampled over Palestinian lands illegally and decided to build houses on them in a fit of colonial aggression. Unfortunately for them, that is nonsensical and false.

I recommend you read the entire article which has detailed quotes from the laws of treaties from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

His concluding paragraph chimes with the Quora comment by Gail Ellis which I quoted in my earlier piece on “what’s wrong with Resolution 2334“. Hamilton writes:

Since there has never been a sovereign state of “Palestine” prior to 1948 or 1967 and since there is still no legitimate state of “Palestine” today, there cannot legally be an “occupation of Palestinian lands” by Israel according to the Hague Convention of 1907. Since there was no legitimate Palestinian state and Israel already has legal claim to Judea, Samaria, and Eastern Jerusalem, Israel has the right to build Jewish communities in disputed territory in Area C until a final peace agreement is signed with the Palestinian Authority, if that is still possible at this point…

We must keep hammering this point home until the world gets it.

The Resilience of Israel

December 29, 2016

The Resilience of Israel, Town HallVictor Davis Hanson, December 29, 2016

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The Obama administration’s estrangement from Israel has had the odd effect of empowering Israel.

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Israel would seem to be in a disastrous position, given the inevitable nuclear capabilities of Iran and the recent deterioration of its relationship with the United States, its former patron and continued financial benefactor.

Immediately upon entering office, President Obama hectored Israel on so-called settlements. Obama promised to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel — and delivered on that promise.

Last week, the U.S. declined to veto, and therefore allowed to pass, a United Nations resolution that, among other things, isolates Israel internationally and condemns the construction of housing in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Obama has long been at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over objections from the Obama administration, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress last year about the existential dangers of the Obama-brokered Iran deal and the likelihood of a new Middle East nuclear proliferation race.

Obama then doubled down on his irritation with Netanyahu through petty slights, such as making him wait during White House visits. In 2014, an official in the Obama administration anonymously said Netanyahu, a combat veteran, was a “coward” on Iran.

At a G-20 summit in Cannes, France, in 2011, Obama, in a hot-mic slip, trashed Netanyahu. He whined to French President Nicolas Sarkozy: “You’re tired of him? What about me? I have to deal with him every day.”

In contrast, Obama bragged about his “special” relationship with autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Never mind that Erdogan seems to want to reconstruct Turkey as a modern Islamist version of the Ottoman Empire, or that he is anti-democratic while Israel is a consensual society of laws.

The Middle East surrounding democratic Israel is a nightmare. Half a million have died amid the moonscape ruins of Syria. A once-stable Iraq was overrun by the Islamic State.

The Arab Spring, U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the coup of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to regain control of Egypt, and the bombing of Libya all have left North Africa in turmoil.

Iran has been empowered by the U.S.-brokered deal and will still become nuclear.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bombers blast civilians not far from Israel’s borders.

Democrats are considering Rep. Keith Ellison as the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee despite his past ties to the Nation of Islam and his history of anti-Israel remarks.

Yet in all this mess, somehow Israel is in its best geostrategic position in decades. How?

The answer is a combination of unintended consequences, deft diplomacy, political upheavals in Europe and the United States, and Israel’s own democratic traditions.

Huge natural gas and oil finds off Israel’s Mediterranean coast and in the Golan Heights have radically changed Israel’s energy and financial positions. Israel no longer needs to import costly fossil fuels and may soon be an exporter of gas and oil to needy customers in Europe and the Middle East. (America recently became the world’s greatest producer of carbon energy and also no longer is dependent on Middle Eastern oil imports, resulting in less political influence by Arab nations.) Israel is creating its own version of Silicon Valley at Beersheba, which is now a global hub of cybersecurity research.

The Obama administration’s estrangement from Israel has had the odd effect of empowering Israel.

Rich Persian Gulf states see Obama as hostile both to Israel and to themselves, while he appeases the common enemy of majority-Shiite Iran.

After a “leading from behind” U.S withdrawal from the Middle East, many Arab nations now see Israel more as a powerful ally against Iran than as an old existential enemy. They also see Israel as a country that has likewise been snubbed by America.

The idea of an Arab-Israeli understanding is surreal, but it is developing from shared fears of being targets of Iranian bombing and American indifference.

Many of Israel’s neighbors are threatened by either ISIS or al-Qaida nihilists. Those deadly dangers remind the world that democratic, free-market Israel is the sole safe port amid a rising Middle East tsunami.

Changing Western politics are empowering Israel as well.

More than 2 million migrants — for the most part, young males from the war-torn Middle East — have terrified Europe, especially after a series of radical Islamic terrorist killings. Suddenly, Europe is far more worried about Israel’s neighbors than about lecturing Israel itself.

Pushback against the Obama administration extends to its foreign policy. President-elect Donald Trump may be more pro-Israel than any recent U.S. president. And he may be the first U.S. leader to move the American embassy to Israel’s capital in West Jerusalem.For all the chaos and dangers abroad, the map of global energy, Western politics and Middle Eastern alliances has been radically redrawn.At the center is a far stronger Israel that has more opportunities than at any other time in its history. It will have an even brighter future after Obama has left office.

John Kerry’s speech on Israel: delusional and disgraceful

December 29, 2016

John Kerry’s speech on Israel: delusional and disgraceful | Anne’s Opinions, 29th December 2016

 

John Kerry delivers his speech on Israel and the peace process at the State Dept. on 28 Dec. 2016

John Kerry delivers his speech on Israel and the peace process at the State Dept. on 28 Dec. 2016

The Obama Administration’s “January surprise” took its next steps today with John Kerry’s absurd and outrageous speech on Israel, in which he claimed to lay out his vision of Middle East peace but which in practice was simply a screed attacking the settlements as he accused the Israeli government of being led by the most extreme elements:

US secretary of state John Kerry on Wednesday laid out his “comprehensive vision” for the future of Middle East peacemaking, saying that a two-state solution was the “only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” but promising that the US would not seek further UN action on the conflict.

Can we trust him and his boss on that promise that they won’t seek further UN action? I’m not willing to bet on it.

In a speech that lasted well over an hour, Kerry described settlements as a central obstacle to achieving an agreement between the sides and declared that Israeli actions in the West Bank were putting the two-state solution, which he said was the sole path to peace, “in serious jeopardy.”

Kerry argued that settlement construction in the West Bank was being “strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible” and said the “the status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation.”

Settlement expansion, he declared, “has nothing to do with Israel’s security.”

Castigating the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said it was “the most right-wing in Israel history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements. The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history, are leading … towards one state. In fact,” he added, “Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes.

With less than a month as secretary of state, Kerry sought to champion the two-state outcome he worked to achieve throughout the last four years, saying it was the only path forward. Incoming president Donald Trump has signaled he may not be committed to the two-state framework.

He rambled on in this vein for the rest of his speech. You can read more at the link, and the entire text is here.

What is much more worthwhile is to watch and listen to Netanyahu’s blistering counter-attack:

David Horovitz of the Times of Israel blasted Kerry, saying that he did everything but call Israel apartheid.

About half an hour into John Kerry’s valedictory lecture from the State Department on Wednesday evening, Israel’s most popular television station, Channel 2, stopped broadcasting it live and switched to other programming. The country’s two other main TV stations, Channels 1 and 10, had already electronically left the building. Given that Kerry’s anti-settlement and anti-occupation address was primarily directed at the Israeli public, the ratings-conscious schedulers’ impatient transition to other material rather encapsulates the climate in which the secretary’s extensive remarks were being received here.

Many in the Israel of 2016 would share some of the arguments they largely didn’t hear Kerry deliver on Wednesday evening. Many recognize the dangers of being permanently intertwined with millions of hostile Palestinians, and fear that the expansion especially of those settlements and outposts that lie to the east of the security barrier increases that risk, and thus puts a two-state solution in danger, threatening Israel’s Jewish character, or its democracy, or both. Kerry’s was a fiery critique, indeed, marked by the allegation that the settlement movement is driving the agenda of the Israeli government, and that Netanyahu has been allowing some of the most extreme voices to draw Israel closer to the Zionist nightmare of a single bi-national state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Just about the only charge Kerry didn’t lob, this time, was apartheid.

But the secretary and his president long ago lost much of the Israeli public, even many of the settlement critics, by underestimating the depth of Palestinian opposition to the very fact of the Jewish state’s existence. The president and his secretary have underestimated, too, the consequent scarring — physical and psychological — that the Israeli public has accumulated over decades of war, terrorism, and demonization as the Palestinians and those who championed their cause have sought Israel’s obliteration.

… He mentioned terrorism and incitement. But the Obama administration never truly internalized the impact of these endless decades fighting off attempted destruction. And Kerry has self-evidently never been willing to internalize that in the vicious Middle East of the past few years, talking up the possibility of relinquishing control over adjacent West Bank history — with its recent history of suicide bomb factories, with Hamas angling to take control, with a hostile Iran emboldened to the east by the Obama Administration’s own nuclear deal — is just that for most Israelis: talk.

We left south Lebanon. Hezbollah took over. We left Gaza. Now it’s ruled by Hamas. When the secretary expresses his “total confidence” that Israel’s security requirements in the West Bank can be met via sophisticated multi-layered border defenses and such, he quite simply loses Israel.

We left south Lebanon. Hezbollah took over. We left Gaza. Now it’s ruled by Hamas. When the secretary expresses his “total confidence” that Israel’s security requirements in the West Bank can be met via sophisticated multi-layered border defenses and such, he quite simply loses Israel.

He would have had more chance of success — or at least of creating a climate in which prospects of progress would be brighter — had he focused more of his attentions on the toxic climate among Palestinians. They are relentlessly educated on the illegitimacy of Israel, with that narrative hammered home over social media, by their political and spiritual leadership, sometimes in their schools. He never strategically attempted to tackle that process of indoctrination.

Easier to place overwhelming blame on the settlers rather than the Palestinians. Or, heaven forbid, on yourself.

Herb Keinon at the Jerusalem Post had similar harsh criticisms of Kerry’s viewpoint:

Long, and without many new elements in it. What a tired-looking, hoarse Kerry did for more than an hour was pretty much compile the “greatest hits” from numerous speeches he and US President Barack Obama have given over the last number of years on the Mideast.

Nevertheless, two elements of the speech were striking.

The first was the insistence that the only solution to the conflict is either two-states, or one. This is the mantra that has been repeated for so long, that it has become axiomatic. But it also drowns out any possibility of creatively looking at other options, a different way.

If the efforts to negotiate two states has failed for so long, perhaps it is time to consider whether there may be other options that might bring Egypt and Jordan into the equation. Perhaps what is needed is a reassessment of all the the assumptions over the last 23 years that have ended in the current stalemate — first and foremost that the only option is two states from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

For instance, in 2010 former National Security Council Giora Eiland spelled out a plan for a Jordanian-Palestinian federation, in which the West Bank and Gaza would be states in an expanded Jordanian kingdom.

Another idea would see the establishment of a Palestinian state, but it would be based on land swaps between Egypt, Israel and a future Palestinian entity that would significantly expand the size of Gaza, allow Israel to retain a good percentage of the the West Bank, and provide Egypt with a land link to Jordan.

These ideas are too often dismissed as unrealistic, something that the Palestinians would never accept. Kerry reinforces that way of thinking with his stating as truth that it is either two states or one state.

The Kerry speech was also telling in that it included a call for Israel to withdraw from the territories and uproot settlements. This is a demand for Israel to make huge compromises. There was, however, no comparable demand for compromise on the Palestinian side.

Kerry called, and says that the US has done so on innumerable occasions, for the Palestinians to stop the terrorism and the incitement, and to build up good governing institutions. But those are not compromises.

A Palestinian compromise would be to recognize that — given everything going on in the Middle East — Israel must retain security control of the Jordan Valley. A compromise would be for the Palestinians to state that they are giving up on the “right of return,” and that they recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish state.

Keinon’s conclusion was absolutely spot-on:

Throughout his career, both in the senate and as secretary of state, Kerry’s speeches on Israel give the listener a sense that he knows what is better for Israel, its future, and security than the Israelis themselves. His speech Wednesday night was true to that rather patronizing form.

The reactions to Kerry’s speech in the United States were similarly scathing. First we have the heart-warming supportive statement from President-elect Donald Trump:

But it’s not only the Republicans who have rejected the Obama regime’s direction. Below is the statement by the House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer:

Steny Hoyer's reaction

Steny Hoyer’s reaction

 

Thank you for your support, Mr. Hoyer. You are on the right path towards restoring Israelis’ and Jews’ trust in the Democratic Party.

Here is a selection of other reactions via Twitter:

And one final tweet which includes a map that encapsulates the entire Middle East problem, and at the same time clearly demonstrates Kerry’s (and his boss’s) blindness when it comes to Israel:

 

UNSC resolution promotes Mid East war

December 24, 2016

UNSC resolution promotes Mid East war, DEBKAfile, December 24, 2016

obama_bibi2480-1

The United States did not abandon Israel by its abstention from vetoing the UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements that was passed Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.

The one who abandoned Israel was US President Barack Obama – and not for the first time. During his eight years in office, Obama let Israel down at least three times on issues that jeopardized its security:

One of the first consequences of his 2011 “Arab Spring” initiative was the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak as Egyptian president and his direct promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover of power in Cairo.

Four years later, Obama turned his back on Israel to award Iran favored status. Iran was allowed to retain the infrastructure of its military nuclear program as well as continuing to develop ballistic missiles, with the help of an infusion of $250 billion in US and European sanctions relief.

The horror of the carnage in Syria overshadowed the fact that President Obama allowed Tehran to pump Revolutionary Guards forces into the country through Iraq in order to fight for the brutal Assad regime. The president made no effort to halt the influx of pro-Iranian Shiite groups, including the Lebanese Hizballah, into Syria, as though it was perfectly natural and his policies had nothing to do with bringing Israel’s arch-foes to its back door.

In 2015, too, when Obama tried to wash his hands of the Middle East at large, he opened the war for the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi to walk in and commandeer large swathes of Iraq and Syria virtually unopposed.

From those vantage points, the jihadists sent out a tentacle to Egyptian Sinai – close to another Israeli border.

Of late, the Obama has claimed he was not aware of ISIS’ potential for expansion, implying that US intelligence was at fault.

All the same, Obama never tired of emphasizing that he had done more than any US president before him to support Israel’s security, mainly in the form of advanced US weapons systems supplied for its defense. Because of the close military and intelligence ties between the two countries, no voice was raised to contradict him.

It is now time to point to the hypocrisy of the incumbent president’s posture: Had he invested less in granting benefits and free rein to the Jewish state’s closest enemies, Israel would perhaps have been less dependent on American hardware.

In the latest UN Security Council resolution, Israel is reprimanded on the score that “all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem, are illegal under international law and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of peace on the basis of the two-state solution.”

Before anyone else, Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry are in a position to attest to the falseness of this equation.

On Nov. 25, 2009, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would impose a 10-month freeze on construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as a concession to ease the US peace initiative. Israel gave way further on its demand for direct negotiations, when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas dug his heels in against meeting Israeli officials face to face. John Kerry was forced to engage in shuttle diplomacy.
Even after those concessions for peace, the Obama initiative fell flat when it came up against Palestinian resistance.

The departing US president seems determined to use his last weeks in office to teach the Israeli prime minister a painful lesson he won’t forget in a hurry after his White House exit on Jan. 20.

But he is getting it wrong one more time. The UN SC resolution will soon be reduced to a piece of paper. The Palestinians will wave it gladly in the face of the international community, but Israel won’t remove a single settlement or stop building new housing estates in Jerusalem. The Prime Minister’s Office made it clear that Israel is not bound by the resolution and rejects it.
The only concrete result will be to make peace more elusive than ever

The notion that Donald Trump will come riding to Israel’s rescue as soon as he moves into the Oval Office is foolish. He was elected to rebuild America as a global power. That would necessarily include restoring US influence in the Middle East, but how he proposes to accomplish this is not generally known.

If he decides to call on Israel for support and assistance, it stands to reason that he will introduce radical changes in Obama’s steps – especially the nuclear deal with Iran and the peace process with the Palestinians.

Not all those changes can be achieved peacefully. They may well entail the use of military force by the United States and Israel. In this sense, Security Council Resolution 2334 may turn out to be the real obstacle to peace, tending rather to promote belligerence in the Middle East, because the Palestinians and other hardliners and rejectionists will use the resolution as their justification for bashing Israel and more acts of terror.

The Real Middle East Story

September 25, 2016

The Real Middle East Story, The Amerian InterestWalter Russell Mead, September 23, 2016

The reason that Bibi has been more successful than Obama is that Bibi understands how the world works better than Obama does. Bibi believes that in the harsh world of international politics, power wisely used matters more than good intentions eloquently phrased.

Bibi’s successes will not and cannot make Israel’s problems and challenges go away. And finding a workable solution to the Palestinian question remains something that Israel cannot ignore on both practical and moral grounds. But Israel is in a stronger global position today than it was when Bibi took office; nobody can say that with a straight face about the nation that President Obama leads. When and if American liberals understand the causes both of Bibi’s successes and of Obama’s setbacks, then perhaps a new and smarter era of American foreign policy debate can begin.

************************

Peter Baker notices something important in his dispatch this morning: at this year’s UNGA, the Israel/Palestine issue is no longer the center of attention. From The New York Times:

They took the stage, one after the other, two aging actors in a long-running drama that has begun to lose its audience. As the Israeli and Palestinian leaders recited their lines in the grand hall of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, many in the orchestra seats recognized the script.

“Heinous crimes,” charged Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. “Historic catastrophe.”

“Fanaticism,” countered Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. “Inhumanity.”

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu have been at this for so long that between them they have addressed the world body 19 times, every year cajoling, lecturing, warning and guilt-tripping the international community into seeing their side of the bloody struggle between their two peoples. Their speeches are filled with grievance and bristling with resentment, as they summon the ghosts of history from hundreds and even thousands of years ago to make their case.

While each year finds some new twist, often nuanced, sometimes incendiary, the argument has been running long enough that the world has begun to move on. Where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once dominated the annual meeting of the United Nations, this year it has become a side show as Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas compete for attention against seemingly more urgent crises like the civil war in Syria and the threat from the Islamic State.

Baker (and presumably many of his readers) don’t go on to the next, obvious question: What does this tell us about the relative success or failure of the leaders involved? The piece presents both Netanyahu and Abbas as irrelevant. They used to command the world stage, but now nobody is interested in their interminable quarrel.

What the piece doesn’t say is that this situation is exactly what Israel wants, and is a terrible defeat for the Palestinians. Abbas is the one whose strategy depends on keeping the Palestinian issue front and center in world politics; Bibi wants the issue to fade quietly away. What we saw at the UN this week is that however much Abbas and the Palestinians’ many sympathizers might protest, events are moving in Bibi’s direction.

There is perhaps only one thing harder for the American mind to process than the fact that President Obama has been a terrible foreign policy president, and that is that Bibi Netanyahu is an extraordinarily successful Israeli Prime Minister. In Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, Israel’s diplomacy is moving from strength to strength. Virtually every Arab and Middle Eastern leader thinks that Bibi is smarter and stronger than President Obama, and as American prestige across the Middle East has waned under Obama, Israel’s prestige — even among people who hate it — has grown. Bibi’s reset with Russia, unlike Obama’s, actually worked. His pivot to Asia has been more successful than Obama’s. He has had far more success building bridges to Sunni Muslims than President Obama, and both Russia and Iran take Bibi and his red lines much more seriously than they take Obama’s expostulations and pious hopes.

The reason that Bibi has been more successful than Obama is that Bibi understands how the world works better than Obama does. Bibi believes that in the harsh world of international politics, power wisely used matters more than good intentions eloquently phrased. Obama sought to build bridges to Sunni Muslims by making eloquent speeches in Cairo and Istanbul while ignoring the power political realities that Sunni states cared most about — like the rise of Iran and the Sunni cause in Syria. Bibi read the Sunnis more clearly than Obama did; the value of Israeli power to a Sunni world worried about Iran has led to something close to a revolution in Israel’s regional position. Again, Obama thought that reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood (including its Palestinian affiliate, Hamas) would help American diplomacy and Middle Eastern democracy. Bibi understood that Sunni states like Egypt and its Saudi allies wanted Hamas crushed. Thus, as Obama tried to end the Gaza war on terms acceptable to Hamas and its allies, Bibi enjoyed the backing of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a successful effort to block Obama’s efforts. Israel’s neighbors may not like Bibi, but they believe they can count on him. They may think Obama has some beautiful ideas that he cares deeply about, but they think he’s erratic, unreliable, and doesn’t understand either them or their concerns.

Obama is an aspiring realist who wanted to work with undemocratic leaders on practical agreements. But Obama, despite the immense power of the country he leads, has been unable to gain the necessary respect from leaders like Putin and Xi that would permit the pragmatic relationships he wanted to build. Bibi is a practicing realist who has succeeded where Obama failed. Bibi has a practical relationship with Putin; they work together where their interests permit and where their interests clash, Putin respects Bibi’s red lines. Obama’s pivot to Asia brought the US closer to India and Japan, but has opened a deep and dangerous divide with China. Under Bibi’s leadership, Israel has stronger, deeper relationships with India, China and Japan than at any time in the past, and Asia may well replace Europe as Israel’s primary trade and investment partners as these relationships develop.

The marginalization of Abbas at the UN doesn’t just reflect the world’s preoccupation with bigger crises in the neighborhood. It reflects a global perception that a) the Sunni Arab states overall are less powerful than they used to be and that b) partly as a result of their deteriorating situation, the Sunni Arab states care less about the Palestinian issue than they used to. This is why African countries that used to shun Israel as a result of Arab pressure are now happy to engage with Israel on a variety of economic and defense issues. India used to avoid Israel in part out of fear that its own Kashmir problem would be ‘Palestinianized’ into a major problem with its Arab neighbors and the third world. Even Japan and China were cautious about embracing Israel too publicly given the power of the Arab world and its importance both in the world of energy markets and in the nonaligned movement. No longer.

Inevitably, all these developments undercut the salience of the Palestinian issue for world politics and even for Arab politics and they strengthen Israel’s position in the region and beyond. Obama has never really grasped this; Netanyahu has based his strategy on it. Ironically, much of the decline in Arab power is due to developments in the United States. Fracking has changed OPEC’s dynamics, and Obama’s tilt toward Iran has accelerated the crisis of Sunni Arab power. Netanyahu understands the impact of Obama’s country and Obama’s policy on the Middle East better than Obama does. Bibi, like a number of other leaders around the world, has been able to make significant international gains by exploiting the gaps in President Obama’s understanding of the world and in analyzing ways to profit from the unintended consequences and side effects of Obama policies that didn’t work out as Obama hoped.

Bibi’s successes will not and cannot make Israel’s problems and challenges go away. And finding a workable solution to the Palestinian question remains something that Israel cannot ignore on both practical and moral grounds. But Israel is in a stronger global position today than it was when Bibi took office; nobody can say that with a straight face about the nation that President Obama leads. When and if American liberals understand the causes both of Bibi’s successes and of Obama’s setbacks, then perhaps a new and smarter era of American foreign policy debate can begin.

Saudi Writer: ‘Mullah Obama’ Provides Iran A Safe Haven To Realize Its Interests; U.S. Administration Now In Service Of Iranian Policy

June 21, 2016

Saudi Writer: ‘Mullah Obama’ Provides Iran A Safe Haven To Realize Its Interests; U.S. Administration Now In Service Of Iranian Policy, MEMRI, June 21, 2016

On June 2, 2016, Muhammad Al-Sa’id, a columnist for the official Saudi daily ‘Okaz, published an article titled “Ayatollah Obama – A Tehran Love Story,” in which he attacked President Obama for supporting  revolutionary Iran and striving to focus U.S. foreign policy on the far east, while abandoning the Middle East. According to him, this view by Obama is disconnected from reality and runs contrary to traditional U.S. policy, which considered Iran a country violating international law and supporting global terrorism. Al-Sa’id argued that Iran is exploiting Obama’s support to realize its own interests, and harnessing U.S. administration circles to operate in its service and against its enemies.

The following are excerpts from the article:[1]

28735Muhammad Al-Sa’id (image: alassr.com)

“The ties between Tehran and Obama run contrary to the history of the relations between the U.S. and Iran, which experienced periods of great difficulty and suspicion over four decades. Moreover, the U.S. has always viewed Iran as a rogue country that violates international law and sponsors terrorism – [terrorism] that has targeted the U.S. in many places around the globe. These inexplicable ties [with Iran] that run counter [to America’s past policy] sum up Obama’s personality, which was shaped by his legal and academic background, and by the resistance of the [black] racial minority to the [white] race that surrounds it…

“The people at the Iranian foreign ministry, who are Islamic Revolution [loyalists], obviously understood this equation and they exploit it by painting themselves as victims and as having adopted values of democracy and [human] rights. However, like all revolutionaries, they will [eventually] fail and carry out the same acts of slaughter against those who collaborated with them and helped them to realize their dream of being accepted back into the global fold by means of the [nuclear] agreement… All the world’s liberals, like Obama… support liberal ideology, yet they turn a blind eye to the hypocrites who use it as a means to seize power…

“Obama believes in revolutionary countries and feels that they are closer to his heart and his conscience than the veteran, stable nations. He believes Iran is a model for a successful revolution that can be improved upon, worked with, and transformed into a democratic revolution, as he sees in his senseless dreams. This is a romantic view that Obama holds from the height of his white throne in his black house. A view akin to an eastern tale filled with the scent of incense, the taste of pistachios, and a celestial carpet bazaar. He believes that he can realize [this dream] based on a document by the American National Security Council, even if it claims the lives of tens of millions of innocent people. At the same time, Obama dreams of implementing his political view… which is based on abandoning the old world – from Casablanca in the West to Manama in the East – and replacing it with the [Pacific Rim] countries – from Korea in the north to New Zealand in the South.

“The relationship of conflict and struggle between Tehran and Afghanistan and the Arabs is ancient… but [there is] another, even more dangerous, link that was born in those same barren deserts between two elements with opposite ideologies – namely the Sunni-Arab Al-Qaeda [organization] and Shi’ite Iran – which is the current key to Uncle Sam’s satisfaction. Thanks to the link between Iran and Al-Qaeda, Iran has managed to fully control this barbaric group’s branch in Afghanistan from 2003 until today by hosting its activists and their families in safe houses and diverting their threat towards Saudi Arabia. We should mention that the violent actions [of Al-Qaeda] against Saudi Arabia began after 2004.

“The Iranian politician did not make do [with helping Al-Qaeda], but also tried to appease the West by providing intelligence on Al-Qaeda and the terrorist organizations tied to it, and even sacrificed the lives of commanders [in the group] who were no longer important [to Iran], turning them into a reward for the U.S. administration – [a reward] that this administration uses occasionally [to show it is combatting terrorism]. And why not? [After all,] Al-Qaeda runs its activity from offices in the eastern neighborhoods of Tehran.

“Naturally, Saudi Arabia was in the crosshairs of Iran, which saw the personality of ‘Mullah Obama’ as a safe haven to realize its interests. The ripeness of the Iranian lobby [in the U.S.] and its infiltration into American media, and especially into the State Department, enabled Iran to do this.

“In the capital of Washington, Iran exploited the rich and influential Iranian diaspora, which numbers tens of thousands, especially second- and third-generation members, and managed to convince them to serve the Iranian nation and set aside their political differences with it. It raised a generation that broke free of the complex of its forebears, who were hunted in their day by the wolves of the Basij. The [Iranian] diaspora devoted its efforts to the Iranian homeland and to realizing its grand interests. This is a message that Iranian youths understood, while Arab youths failed to. [Thus,] U.S. [administration] circles became great engines serving Iran’s policy and striving to destroy its enemies.”

Endnote:

[1] ‘Okaz (Saudi Arabia), June 2, 2016.

Can US, Turkey keep up appearances in Syria?

May 30, 2016

Can US, Turkey keep up appearances in Syria? Al-Monitor, May 29, 2016

A terrorist group linked to the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Tartus and Jableh in Syria on May 23 that killed more than 150 civilians and wounded more than 200 others. Maxim Suchkov points out that the attack in Tartus occurred deep inside government-controlled territory. Russia maintains a naval base in Tartus and an air base and reconnaissance center in Khmeimim in the Latakia region. The suicide attacks, Suchkov suggests, could be a catalyst for a Russian “first strike” strategy against terrorist and aligned Salafi groups.

Moscow had already signaled the prospect of escalation against Jabhat al-Nusra and allied groups prior to the May 23 attacks. The Russian Ministry of Defense has announced a pause in its air campaign to allow armed groups allied with Jabhat-al Nusra to distance themselves from the al-Qaeda affiliate. On May 26, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and allied groups seized the town of Dirkhabiyah near Damascus. Ahrar al-Sham has coordinated more closely with Jabhat al-Nusra in response to increased US and Russian targeting of the al-Qaeda affiliate over the past few months.

This column last week suggested that the United States take up a Russian offer to coordinate attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra, which is not a party to the cessation of hostilities. For the record, we have no tolerance or empathy for groups or individuals who stand with al-Qaeda. We hope that this is at least part of the message the United States is conveying to its regional partners who have backed these groups.

With the Geneva talks suspended for several weeks, the prospect of a Russian campaign to deliver heavy and potentially fatal blows to Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies, especially in and around Aleppo and Idlib, could signal yet another turning point in the Syria conflict.

Turkey’s failed proxy war

The United States and Turkey are struggling to keep up appearances in Syria, despite even further signs of division and discord.

Gen. Joseph Votel, US CENTCOM commander, met last week with Syrian Kurdish forces during a “secret” visit to northern Syria as part of a regional diplomatic tour that also included a stop in Ankara. Votel told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that he is seeking to “balance” Turkey’s role as a “fabulous” partner in the battle against IS with that of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), which is a “very good partner on the ground.”

In contrast to the YPG, Turkey’s proxy forces, including a worrying mix of Salafists who are willing to run operations with Jabhat al-Nusra, have been a flop. Last week, IS seized at least seven villages in the northern Aleppo region.

Fehim Tastekin reports that SDF-led military operations to liberate Jarablus, which is an essential gateway along with al-Rai to the outside world via Turkey, were postponed “because of Turkey’s red line against the Kurds.” The offensive against Raqqa has also been slowed, writes Tastekin, because “the SDF’s operational capacity still leaves much to be desired. It is not an option for the Kurdish YPG-YPJ to control Raqqa, because they will encounter local resistance. They also worry that scattering their forces in Arab regions could weaken the defensive lines of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). Therefore, Arab forces would have to get in shape to control the situation in the post-IS period.” Laura Rozen reports from Washington that the United States is seeking to boost the numbers of Arab Sunni forces among the SDF in anticipation of an advance on Raqqa.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon found itself in a public relations fiasco after Turkey complained that US special forces in Syria were wearing badges with the logo of the YPG, which Turkey considers the Syrian partner of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and therefore also a terrorist organization. This might be compared with what in the sports world is known as an unforced error, and made Votel’s already daunting diplomacy that much more complicated.

Air Force Col. Sean McCarthy also told Ignatius that US air operations against IS out of Incirlik Air Base were mostly “autonomous” of Turkish missions, saying that “we don’t discuss with them where we’re going.”

Adding it all up, the US-Turkish “partnership” against IS may be more fable than fabulous. The open secret is that Turkey is preoccupied first with thwarting advances by Syria’s Kurds, and second with shutting down the remaining lifelines for IS in northern Syria. These priorities are of a piece. No doubt Turkey is taking up the fight against IS, but first things first. Tastekin, who previously broke the back story on Turkey’s disastrous proxy efforts to retake al-Rai from IS in April, now concludes that “there is no room for optimism that Ankara will erase its red lines vis-a-vis the Kurds. Instead, Turkey is now trying to put together an even more formidable force with Jabhat al-Nusra, which it is trying to steer away from al-Qaeda.”

The catch might just be that many of the Syrian armed groups backed by Washington’s regional partners are proxies for a sectarian agenda that is mostly about toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, however unlikely that now appears, and, by extension, keeping the heat on Iran. The when and where of taking the fight to IS or Jabhat al-Nusra is more or less negotiable, depending on trade-offs and pressure. We do not feel we are out on a limb in suggesting that efforts by Ankara or others to wean Jabhat al-Nusra from al-Qaeda will come to no good. This column has repeatedly documented the fluidity of foreign-backed Salafi groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam shifting in and out of tactical alliances with Jabhat al-Nusra, all the while preaching an ideology almost indistinguishable from al-Qaeda and IS.

The losers, of course, are the people of Syria, including those who suffer under IS’ tyranny that much longer because of Turkey’s concerns about the Kurds, and as Washington’s policymakers and pundits begin another maddening deep dive into how to rejigger ethnic and sectarian fault lines. Syrians fleeing IS terror in Aleppo, meanwhile, told Mohammed al-Khatieb that living under IS is “like hell … unbearable.” While we acknowledge the complexities and challenges of the raw ethnic and sectarian politics of Syria, as well as the potential for vendettas and mass killings, there is, in our score, an urgency and priority to focus on the destruction of IS and al-Qaeda above all else.

Sur’s aftermath

Diyarbakir’s historic district of Sur has witnessed some of the most brutal fighting between Turkish military and PKK forces over the past year. Mahmut Bozarslan reports from Diyarbakir that “historical landmarks in Sur, which was last year added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, also suffered their share of destruction. The walls of the Armenian Catholic church are partially destroyed, while the nearby Haci Hamit Mosque is missing its minaret, with a dome riddled with bullets. Another Armenian church, Surp Giragos, had its windows shattered and interior damaged.”

“Still, those ancient monuments were lucky compared with more ordinary structures in the area,” writes Bozarslan. “A building with an intact door was almost impossible to find. The warring parties had used some buildings as fighting bases, others as places to rest. Stairways were littered with empty tins; one was also stained with blood. At the bloodied spot, a piece of paper reading “body #1” was left behind, suggesting that the security forces had been there for a crime scene report. A couple seemed relieved that they had escaped with relatively little damage, but grumbled that their apartment had been broken into, with the bedroom and closets rummaged. They claimed it was the security forces who had entered, while their neighbor showed Al-Monitor binoculars that had been left behind.”

Netanyahu’s dilemma: Détente with Turkey or recognition of Syrian Kurds

April 4, 2016

Netanyahu’s dilemma: Détente with Turkey or recognition of Syrian Kurds, DEBKAfile, April 4, 2016

obama_erdogan_best_friends_2012They were once good friends

Last Friday, April 1, President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan had his first encounter with a group of American Jewish leaders, at his request. The full details of its contents were hard to sort out because the Turkish translator censored his master’s words with a heavy hand to make them more acceptable to his audience. But Erdogan’s bottom line, DEBKAfile’s New York sources report, was a request for help in explaining to the Obama administration in Washington and the Netanyahu government in Jerusalem why they must on no account extend support to the Syrian Kurdish PYD and its YPG militia or recognize their bid for a separate state in northern Syria.

The Turkish president did not spell out his response to this step, but indicated that a Turkish invasion to confront the Kurdish separatists was under serious consideration in Ankara. His meaning was clear: He would go to war against the Kurds, even if this meant flying in the face of President Barack Obama’s expectation that Turkey would fight the Islamic State.

Relations between the Turkish and US presidents have slipped back another notch in the last two weeks. When he visited Washington for the nuclear summit, Erdogan was pointedly not invited to the White House and his request for a tete a tete with Obama was ruled out. The US president even refused to join Erdogan in ceremonially honoring a new mosque built outside Washington with Turkish government funding.

At odds between them is not just the Kurdish question, but Erdogan’s furious opposition to Obama’s collaboration with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Syrian conflict, and the two presidents’ tacit accord to leave Bashar Assad in power indefinitely until a handover becomes manageable.

On Feb. 7, on his return for a Latin American tour, the Turkish president warned Obama that he must choose between Ankara and the Kurds, whom he called “terrorists.” By last week, the US president’s choice was clear. It was the Kurds.

ObamaErdogan480_Koteret

When Erdogan arrived home from Washington last week, he discovered that the roughly four million Syrian Kurds dwelling in three enclaves touching on the Turkish border had taken important steps to advance their goal for self-rule: They were drafting a plan for establishing a “Federal Democratic System” in their three enclaves – Hassakeh-Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin – and had announced the amalgamation of their respective militias under the heading the “Syrian Democratic Forces”.

Cold-shouldered in Washington as well as Moscow (since Turkish jets shot down a Russian fighter last November), Erdogan found himself let down by the Jewish leaders whom he tried to woo. They refused to support him or his policy on the Kurdish question for three reasons:

1. Ankara had for years consistently promoted the radical Palestinian Hamas organization. To this, Erdogan replied by denying he had backed Hamas  only acted to improve the lives of the Gaza population. And, anyway, he said he had reacyed understandings with Israel on this issue..

2. His hostility towards Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi. Erdogan’s response to this was a diatribe slamming the Egyptian ruler.

3. No clear reply had been forthcoming from Jerusalem by that time on Israel’s relations with Turkey or its policy towards the Kurds, despite the Turkish leader’s positive presentation of  mended fences.

The current state of the relationship is laid out by DEBKAfile’s sources:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is caught on the horns of multiple dilemmas: While reluctant to respond to Ankara’s suit for warm relations with a leader who is shunned by Obama and Putin alike, Turkey is nonetheless offering to be Israel’s best client for its offshore gas.

Israel’s friendship with the Kurdish people goes back many years. The rise of an independent or autonomous state in Syria and its potential link-up with the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq would create an important new state of 40 million people in the heart of the Middle East.

Israel has no wish to make enemies of its longstanding friends by disowning them in favor of Turkey.

Already, Israel’s evolving ties with the Syrian Kurds have given Israel’s strategic position in Syria a new positive spin, upgrading it versus the Assad regime in Damascus and its Hizballah and Iranian allies, who are avowed enemies of the Jewish state. Those ties offer Israel its first foothold in northern Syria.

And finally, Erdogan is not the only opponent of Kurdish separatism; so too are important Sunni Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. By promoting the Kurds, Israel risks jeopardizing its rapidly developing ties with those governments.

Shifting blame, White House faults war general’s 2014 ISIS assessment as he departs

March 31, 2016

Shifting blame, White House faults war general’s 2014 ISIS assessment as he departs, Washington TimesRowan Scarborough, March 30, 2016

obama_lea_c0-80-4500-2703_s885x516President Obama (center) and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (left) greet Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, on the apron at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin relinquished command in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday of the U.S. forces fighting the Islamic State –– as a bit of a sour note hung in the air back in Washington.

President Obama has been consistently criticized for a 2014 comment to the New Yorker magazine that the Islamic State, as it invaded Iraq from Syria, was merely the “jayvee.” In other words, it was not to be taken seriously. Months later, the terror army controlled large swaths of Iraq and Syria, forcing Mr. Obama to ordered a new war.

Then, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Mr. Obama and came out with a long favorable story this month on the commander in chief’s foreign policy views. In the story is this:

“Early in 2014, Obama’s intelligence advisers told him that ISIS was of marginal importance. According to administration officials, General Lloyd Austin, then the commander of Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, told the White House that the Islamic State was ‘a flash in the pan.’ This analysis led Obama, in an interview with The New Yorker, to describe the constellation of jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria as terrorism’s ‘jayvee team.’”

The quote clearly showed the White House was shifting blame from Mr. Obama to Gen. Austin, a 40-year Army combatant, leader and commander, as he went out the door.

Gen. Austin, through his public affairs office at U.S. Central Command, has denied ever making such a remark.

His supporters point out that, as the last four-star general to leave Iraq in December 2011, he had recommended to the White House that more than 20,000 American troops remain in the country because the gains there were reversible.

At the time Mr. Obama downplayed the Islamic State, then known by a different name, it had built a large army in Syria and had begun its expansion into Iraq.

Mr. Obama has a track record of shifting blame. For example, when the White House plan to train a Syrian army to fight the Islamic State failed, he told an interviewer that he always knew it would not work.

Gen. Austin turned over command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., to Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who had been chief of U.S. Special Operations Command.

At the ceremony, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter heaped praise on Gen. Austin, a West Point graduate and recipient of the Silver Star for gallantry in battle.

As CentCom leader for three years, he has directed operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and kept watch on an expansionist Iran in the Persian Gulf.

“The people of CentCom have met these challenges under the extraordinary leadership of a towering figure in the life of our military, General Lloyd Austin,” Mr. Carter said. “It’s one of the highest compliments in the Army to be called ‘a soldier’s soldier.’ For more than four decades, Lloyd Austinhas not only demonstrated what it means to be a soldier’s soldier. He has come to define it.”

At the Pentagon on Tuesday, Peter Cook, Mr. Carter’s spokesman, was asked if the secretary would clear the four-star general of the “flash in the pan” quote at the change of command.

“I don’t think Secretary Carter needs to clear General Austin of that,” Mr. Cook said. “I think General Austin himself has indicated that that statement is factually incorrect, and I believe there are others who have said the same.  So I’m not aware that General Austin ever made that comment, and I think I would refer you to the White House as well if you want to check with them.

“But General Austin does not need to have his name cleared for any reason.  He has led admirably and with distinction for, as I said earlier, close to 40 years, and I think his record of accomplishment speaks for itself.”